West Side Story: Flat at Box Office with Disappointing $10 Million Debut

West Side Story: Flat at Box Office with Disappointing $10 Million Debut

Ansel Elgort as Tony in 20th
Courtesy of Niko Tavernise / 20th Century Studios

West Side Story, Spielberg’s remake of the classic musical, fell flat in its box office debut, collecting a paltry $10.5 million from 2,820 theaters.

The film’s inaugural ticket sales are cause for concern because Disney and 20th Century Studios spent $100 million to revive the love story for modern times and stand to lose millions, unless West Side Story endures at the box office through the holidays and Oscar season.

It may be possible to attract moviegoers between Christmas and New Year’s, but it’s a bad start for one of the most critically acclaimed films of the year, and one that opened exclusively in theaters.

It’s worrisome for both theater operators and traditional studios that “West Side Story” — one of the most beloved stories in musical theater history and under the direction of Hollywood’s most commercially successful filmmaker — sold fewer tickets in its initial weekend than In the Heights ($11.5 million debut), a lesser-known song-and-dance property that premiered simultaneously on HBO Max.

West Side Story at least earned more than Universal’s recent Dear Evan Hansen adaptation, which premiered to $7.4 million, but that’s not exactly high bar considering “Dear Evan Hansen” was skewered by critics.

Moreover, In the Heights and Dear Evan Hansen cost far less to make than “West Side Story.”


“In the past, we’ve seen musicals connect with critics and audiences and go on a run,” says David A. Gross, who runs the consulting firm Franchise Entertainment Research, about Chicago, which opened to $10 million and eventually earned $170 million in North America.

That was also the case with 2017’s original musical The Greatest Showman, which stumbled with a measly $8.8 million start. But audiences fell in love with the music and returned to theaters for sing-along screenings, eventually propelling domestic ticket sales to $171 million.

Though it has timeless numbers like “Somewhere” and “America,” it’s unlikely that “West Side Story” songs will return to radio’s top 10 charts and inspire repeat viewings.

Based on the 1957 Broadway musical, “West Side Story” was written by Tony Kushner and features mostly unknown stars in Ansel Elgort and Rachel Zegler, who play ill-fated lovers Tony and Maria. Their romance fuels the area’s rival street gangs, the white Sharks and the Puerto Rican Jets. The ensemble cast also includes Ariana DeBose as Anita, David Alvarez as Bernardo, Mike Faist as Riff and Rita Moreno as Valentina, a newly created role.

Reception from ticket buyers has been encouraging (it landed an “A” CinemaScore), but West Side Story is not expected to replicate “The Greatest Showman”-level staying power because older audiences — the movie’s core demographic — haven’t been eager to return to the movies.

West Side Story had a strong turnout on premium large formats (PLF), with IMAX contributing $1 million in domestic ticket sales.

Unfortunately, it will lose most of its placement on PLF screens when Spider-Man: No Way Home debuts next weekend.

If West Side Story is going to be profitable, it will need to connect internationally as well domestically. But so far, international audiences haven’t been particularly receptive. The movie has generated $4.4 million from 37 overseas markets, bringing its global tally to $14.9 million.

After October set pandemic box office records, thanks to “Venom: Let There Be Carnage” and “No Time to Die,” movie theater attendance has taken a downturn.

That will change next week when Sony’s comic book sequel Spider-Man: No Way Home hits cinemas.  Clearly, adult crowds have been staying at home. Most movies that have managed to become commercially successful have been catered to younger males.

STX’s entirely unseen athletic drama National Champions,  starring Stephan James and J.K. Simmons, flopped in its debut, bringing in $300,000 from 1,197 theaters. It’s an embarrassing result, even by COVID-19 standards. “National Champions” opened at No. 14 on box office charts behind New Line’s “Elf” re-release; the perennial holiday favorite brought in $343,000 from only 630 theaters. After an exclusive run in theaters, STX is positioning “National Champions” to land on premium video-on-demand platforms to coincide with college football’s title match in January.

Disney’s Encanto has continued to draw crowds. After two weekends in the No. 1 spot, the animated musical fable has slid to second place with $9.4 million from 3,750 locations. Since opening around Thanksgiving, Encanto has amassed $71 million in North America and $150 million globally.

Sony’s Ghostbusters: Afterlife has been a popular option, mostly among male moviegoers. In its fourth weekend of release, the sci-fi comedy sequel landed in third place with $7.1 million from 3,815 screens. That takes its North American tally to a respectable $112 million.

At No. 4, MGM’s crime drama House of Gucci added $4 million over the weekend, boosting its domestic total to $41 million.

Disney and Marvel’s Eternals rounded out the top five with $3.1 million from 3,030 cinemas. The superhero epic, which opened in early November, has collected $161 million to date.